Earlier this month at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Jeff Holden, Uber’s head of product announced updates to their Elevate project. To me, Elevate sounds more like some kind of elevator service, but to many others, this suggests a flying car taxi service. Holden first hinted at this back in September 2016. Since 2016, Uber has been working on plans to bring a flying taxi service to Dubai and Dallas-Fort Worth. They are now adding Los Angeles to the list. Which is probably a good idea considering what traffic is like there. To give you an idea, its estimated that the city clocked an average of 104 hours of traffic jams in 2016 alone. Which is what contributed to it being the most congested city in the world.
Elevate is coming at a time when Elon Musk is using Los Angeles as the first location for their Boring Company in order to dig a tunnel to bypass traffic. I think Musk’s idea is a little bit more futuristic than Elevate, but both seem like viable solutions to an increasingly awful problem. Both ideas do feel like they’re straight out of The Jetson’s, but I’m on board with that. The question I have is who is going to use this? If you’re a Lakers fan, then you know that Kobe Bryant would take a helicopter in order to get to his basketball games. While that seems extreme, if its a matter of making the game or not, you can see why he would do it. So will it be people like him using this service? Perhaps, but Uber is also suggesting that it could take the place of a busy mom’s daily commute. I don’t know that I buy that, but I’ll think about it.
In addition to this project, Uber has also recently entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA in order to really propel these flying taxis into the future. No pun intended. This agreement states that Uber will develop a brand new air traffic control system for the flying taxis. This gap has been a concern so I’m happy to see that it’s being addressed. “NASA is very focused on getting [uncrewed traffic management] adoption and pressure-testing the framework and make sure it works correctly. Uber is actually trying to put this new air traffic system into production.”
Uber Elevate even brought a former NASA engineer on board to help them design their flying taxi system. As I mentioned, this whole idea of air traffic control is extremely necessary. This is why drones aren’t always allowed in some urban areas. Who monitors where they’re going? Just like there are rules for driving cars, there also has to be rules for driving things in the air. And there are for airplanes. But with flying car technology rapidly emerging, there also has to be rules in place to ensure everyone’s safety. In addition to Uber’s project, Airbus has been working on their version, which is supposed to be tested in 2018. Uber Elevate is anticipating these taxis will be ready in the next two years.